The three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, allow individuals to freeze their credit for a small fee. The cost generally ranges from $3 to $10 per bureau but may be higher in some states. Freezing your credit seals your reports to all external inquiries. Each bureau provides a personal identification number (PIN) that allows you to temporarily “thaw” your information if legitimate applications for credit need to be processed. No information can be accessed unless you provide your PIN or request to lift the freeze. Thawing your credit will typically have the same fees associate with freezing. A credit freeze has no impact on your existing lines of credit. You will be able to service loans and use credit cards as your regularly would.
Contacting the Credit Reporting Bureaus:
IMPORTANT: You must request a credit freeze at all three of the major credit bureaus. The agencies are not linked and requesting a freeze at one bureau will not automatically freeze your information at the others.
You can request a credit freeze online or over the phone. The information for each bureau is below. Be sure to set aside a block of time for the process. Completing documents and answering questions for all three of the bureaus could take around two hours to complete. You can use the same links and phone numbers to request a temporary lift of a credit freeze.
While freezing your credit is an effective way to protect against financial identity theft it is not the best option for everyone. If your credit reports need to be accessed often because of your job, or if you have a need to create new accounts with different financial institutions on a regular basis the costs of freezing and thawing may be a burden.
If the cost and process of setting up a credit freeze do not appeal to you, many alternative protections can be put in place. You can set up fraud alerts with each of the credit bureaus. You can also sign up for a free credit reporting service, such as Credit Karma, that will allow you to set up alerts for any suspicious activity related to your accounts. Additionally, check with your bank to learn about the ways they can protect your accounts and alert you if any fraudulent activity occurs. Even simple steps such as monitoring your accounts and updating your passwords on a regular basis will go a long way towards securing your identity.